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I’ve been pursuing the holy grail of automated document generation for many more years than I’ve been writing columns. From simple scripting language and merge system with Paul Lutus’s AppleWriter and a remarkably innovative Expert Ease system for Apple II and III computers, to the merge capabilities of WordStar on the early IBM PCs, through the very high-end CAPS document assembly/expert systems of the early 90s and the same company’s low-end HotDocs, the aim has been to recycle good generic writing for use in new situations. Recycling documents, it was obvious, would not only save time and money every time they were used, but would also give a degree of quality control, acting as a checklist for the master draftsman, but permitting junior associates or even secretaries to create documents of the same high quality as those created by the master draftsman. A quality automated document generator could also act as an expert system, permitting the template author’s skill and intelligence to be used by those of lesser knowledge or ability. Although many lawyers claim that every transaction, every lawsuit, every estate plan is different, making a boilerplate/cookie cutter approach impossible, it is clear to me that recyclable forms make a lot of sense as a place to begin even for transactions that seem to be sui generis. Many of the programs I have reviewed over the years have been good enough to use if accompanied by an excellent set of preprogrammed forms, but typical lawyers would find it too difficult and time consuming to program their own documents into the system. This week I look at ThinkDocs, a supposedly revolutionary document assembly program. I didn’t find the program all that revolutionary, but the developer has made a promising start. Alas, it still isn’t easy to program your own documents into the system. INSTALLATION/DOCUMENTATION/ SUPPORT ThinkDocs installed automatically to more than 11 Megabytes on a non-networked workstation, although the program can be run from a server on a LAN (Local Area Network). Each workstation on which it is used must have its own 97 or 2000 version of Microsoft Word for Windows. Documentation includes a 200-page manual that includes information for the network administrator on how to manage the program, examples of how to accomplish various tasks using the program, and definitions of functions available for use. Browsing through the manual makes it clear that ThinkDocs is not only a document assembly environment but has its own programming language. If you are enough of a programmer to be comfortable with concepts such as “RTrim (Function) returns a copy of a string without trailing spaces,” the mirror, naturally enough, of the function name Ltrim, you will really hit ThinkDocs well. Nonetheless, this is not the type of program which you can use, out of the box, without documentation. The last option on the product’s main screen shows Tutorial/Help. The tutorial is not interactive, but an outline-based and hyperlinked text file. I strongly suggest that you read through at least the narrative sections of the manual and familiarize yourself with Help/Tutorial before you begin. The vendor promises free e-mail support, free but not toll-free telephone support weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern time, and free upgrades and maintenance, for the first year after purchase are included in the purchase price. Support for subsequent years costs between one-fourth to one-third of the initial purchase price. When I attempted to call, it was not unusual to get voice mail and a promise to return the call. USING THINKDOCS When I ran ThinkDocs, I first saw a screen showing, in addition to the Tutorial/Help option, links for New, Open Document, Templates, Clauses, Clients, Fields and Administrator. Following hints in the manual, I moved to the Administrator section to set up law firm information, permissions and security levels for various users, defaults as to location of files and similar matters. ThinkDocs users can develop sets of Templates and Clause Libraries which can be used to automate creations of new documents. A Template is, in essence, a Word document into which the Template creator has inserted Fields which will eventually contain client data; the Template and the data combine to form a Document. As the Document is a Microsoft Word file, it can be saved, edited and printed. Clauses are, in essence, Document fragments that can be inserted into a document you create. The Clauses may have fields for data entry, and the document you create can become a new Template. Any of these can be organized by client and by matter within client; ThinkDocs is not only a document assembly system, it is also a system that can be used to organize your documents as you build them. ThinkDocs won’t replace a document management system, but it does make it easy to work with a particular client matter as it is in process. Alas, ThinkDocs doesn’t use Windows subfolders; this makes it very difficult to find a particular document if you attempt to access it directly from Word, rather than going through ThinkDocs. I worked with some of the prepared material, using a data entry wizard to input the data required by a Template. After a short wait, the program assembles the document, which sits in your version of Microsoft Word, with a ThinkDocs pulldown added to the menu bar. Creating a simple Template of my own was considerably more difficult and it took a lot of time until I got it right. Obviously, the process should get easier with more Template creation experience. I like the things that ThinkDocs is trying to do, and the concept of Template sets combined with Clause Libraries, while not original, is a good one. CONSIDERATIONS ThinkDocs is a complex and relatively new program, and has some rough edges. For example, the program seemed rather sluggish, with lots of waiting even on a computer with a 500 MHz processor running Microsoft Windows 98. Several times I chose from a right-click popup menu to find that the choice presented wasn’t really available in that situation. When I attempted to browse through a list of clauses, ThinkDocs not only wouldn’t let me expand the directory window, but wouldn’t even let me scroll to the bottom of the list, so that I could examine all of my choices. Obviously, the vendor’s quality control people have a lot of work to do. But the real reason that I do not recommend ThinkDocs at this time is that I still think that most lawyers really want content rather than a document-assembly system. I would very much like to see a Version 2 of ThinkDocs that includes Templates and a Clause Library for a particular practice area or to be used in a particular legal situation. A set of good forms could be easily put to use with a cleaned up version of the software, and ThinkDocs and good forms could well be an asset to a busy law office. I hope that all of these things happen next year. SUMMARY ThinkDocs Version 1.5.65 is a not-quite-ready version of very promising document assembly software. I don’t recommend it now, but will revisit the program next year. DETAILS ThinkDocs, Version 1.5.65. Price: $695 for two user version, down to $270 per user for 10 users. Includes one year upgrades/maintenance and telephone and e-mail support. Requires IBM PC or compatible running Microsoft Windows 95 or later and Microsoft Word for Windows 97 or 2000. DataTech Software, Inc. 4800 Linglestown Road Harrisburg, PA 17112 Phone:(800) 556 7526 or (717)652-4344 Fax: (717) 652-3222 E-mail: [email protected]om Web: www.thinkdocs.com Barry D. Bayer practices law and writes about computers from his office in Homewood, Ill. You may send comments or questions to his e-mail addressor write c/o Law Office Technology Review, P.O. Box 2577, Homewood, IL 60430.

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